A controversy in a St. Louis suburb over the display of “In God We Trust” as a motto in the City Council chambers prompted hundreds of residents to rally in support of the sign on Wednesday after some residents and anti-religion groups complained.
The debate began last month after a woman – who was not from the area – was escorted out of a Wentzville council meeting after she protesting the display and exceeding her speaking-time limit.
“It’s offensive to a lot of people, I’m outspoken about it but there are a lot of people like me that are afraid to speak out publicly,” said Sally Hunt, of neighboring Maryland Heights, according to KMOV-TV. “It says ‘In God We Trust’ when it should say ‘in God some of us trust,” she added.
The motto has been on display on the council dais since the building’s opening in November last year. It was reportedly paid for with private funds.
The city was reportedly contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which argued the sign should be removed.
“Your heavy-handed, dismissive treatment of Ms. Hunt — calling her a liar and then having her embarrassingly removed from the meeting by force — vividly demonstrates Ms. Hunt’s point that your constituents have good reason to be afraid to challenge the Board’s foisting of religion onto the rest of the community,” read the letter sent to the city, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported
But the controversy reached its peak Wednesday as hundreds of residents carrying signs reading “In God We Trust” gathered to inside Wentzville’s city hall to rally in favor of the display.
“When I heard our national motto was under question or under attack, I wanted to come here. I’m only one person, but I can pray,” local resident Mary Lou Rogers told the KMOV-TV.
"When I heard our national motto was under question or under attack, I wanted to come here. I’m only one person, but I can pray.”
“If you read the history of our country, it was founded on Christian moral values,” Ginger Yoak, a longtime resident of the city, told the Post-Dispatch. “And this motto doesn’t specify one particular religion, it can apply to different religions. This is our motto that represents our country’s values and I want to keep it.”
Most people at the gathering supported the display of the motto, but a dozen dissenting voices were heard, although met with loud boos.
“Religion is something personal. It should be at home, the people who are representing the people of Wentzville need to represent all of them, not everybody is a Christian,” Angie Molleck said at the gathering.
Mayor Nick Guccione said during the meeting that the sign became an issue only after he disclosed that the local Rotary Club and the local Kiwanis Club paid for the sign. He added that he consulted with legal experts about the sign and the board held a vote about the display, which was approved.
“The overwhelming majority is in support of what we’ve done,” he said. “I don’t understand why it is offensive, but you can’t please everybody,” he said Wednesday. “I will not take it down. I will stand strong on it. I do believe it’s our national motto and it promotes patriotism.”
Some people also criticized those opposing the display but not actually living in the area. “I’m just not interested in some outsider coming in and telling us we can’t have this motto,” said Wayne Stoehner.
Hunt, who began the controversy after being escorted out of the hall last month at the mayor’s request, also attended Wednesday's meeting to voice her opposition, saying some residents of the city do not support the sign and “value a separation of church and state.”
“They understand government is not a church,” she said. “Government should not advance religion.”
The audience booed Hunt’s remarks and counted down the final seconds of her allocated time limit.
The mayor stands behind the sign -- and there are no plans to scrap it.